Monday, June 29, 2009


Cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. Mother's rooms have such a nice airy feel about them now! We even went out and brought her some lovely white curtains. Things are looking good!

I keep reminding myself that I'm not throwing away history here, I'm organizing it so that someone can appreciate it. Pictures have been dusted and put out on shelves rather than in cardboard boxes with the spiders. Letters are bundled for someday editing. Some books have found their way to the local library but I found one that I absolutely have to keep and will take it back to Japan with me.

This is a book of Japanese fairy tales that my grandparents must have given me when I was 5 or 6. I can vaguely remembered being entranced by the exotic pictures when I was a child and as I got older I loved reading all the interesting folk tales of fishermen fighting demons and princesses being born from bamboo poles. I guess my first interest in Japan began with these stories. Some of the titles include "The Man Who Made the Trees Bloom" and "The Legend of Urashima".

And while going through some of Mother's old pictures I found this photo from my first trip to Japan when I was 12. Our family visited Japan for two weeks one summer and took in the sights (even coming to the city that I now live in!). I think we met some distant relatives of my mother's and she shocked us all, even herself, by speaking elementary Japanese! She hadn't heard Japanese since she was 5 years old yet it somehow came out of her head when forced to speak it with the elderly aunts who paid an honorable visit to our honorable hotel.

This picture says it was taken on June 23rd 1967, 42 years ago, in front of the Tokyo Tower which was modeled after the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Marcy looked at this picture and said we looked like something out of a history book. Remember black and white photography? Wow. Does that make me feel OLD!! My father is the man in the white jacket behind my mother and brother and myself. I remember the smells of Tokyo and the little trinkets that were sold at all the souvenir stands. Something must have caught my fancy on this first trip because I came back in 1974 as a college student and again in 1977 on a work visa.

And I'm still there! (Or will be in another 10 days!)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Family pictures

I finally got to see my son as a waiter yesterday. Takumi is working part time at a Shabu Shabu restaurant and I was curious to see his work place and watch him in action. Embarrassed him completely by taking pictures of him as he served us. Mothers do these things.

And here we have a picture of Takumi and his girlfriend. I think she was afraid to meet me but Takumi convinced her to take the risk. Unfortunately I accidently sneaked up on her and frightened her out of her wits. Boy, did she let out a scream. Yep. Takumi has a scary mom.

Marcy and Kiana and I finished both the baby quilts we were working on and hopefully those will get delivered this weekend. I hand-stitched all around and did some leaves on one quilt but I bought a machine quilting foot and machine quilted hearts on the other quilt. One baby has already been born and named so I made some Wonky letters to make the quilt more personalized.

The day that I bought the quilting foot, Marcy and Kiana and Leiya and I found a fabric warehouse with stacks and stacks and STACKS of fabric. It was so amazing that I really couldn't see the forest through the trees! The prices were unbelievable (like $1.69 a yard for some shelves) but you couldn't get down to even see the fabric. Still, I managed to buy some nice stuff and I will take it home to work on a quilt for one of Leiya's friends. Marcy and Kiana bought fabric too and "we" will start making a couple table runners this week.

We managed to take Grandma to get Smoothies the other day, the first time she'd been out in ages. Marcy looked at this picture and said

"Well we know what Tani's going to look like in 30 years!"

Mother looked at the picture and said,

"Yuck. What happened to my hair?"

So Leiya cut Grandma's hair.

Friday, June 26, 2009


Yesterday I spent about 6 hours cleaning my mother's house. We've decided that if we are going to ask someone to come in and stay with Grandma for some hours every week that her house really needs to be made livable. The first job is just getting rid of all the paper she had around and she had a lot!!!

My mother was an elementary school teacher for 24 years. Let me tell you. I think I found tests and worksheets and book reports from the 1970's! (Not to mention old textbooks, graph and construction paper and art supplies.)

After her years of teaching my mother settled into being the church stenographer for various church meetings. She attended meetings and took notes in shorthand (she's the only one who can read her notebooks) then typed up all the minutes and THEN made copies of all the minutes for her own files. Can you even imagine all the notebooks filled with reams of papers stacked in the corners of her room?

Then we have bank receipts and insurance company invoices and doctors' bills. Those alone overworked the shredder until it no longer works...

Cards. And cards, and CARDS. Both received and new. She has saved all Mother's Day cards, Christmas cards, Thank you cards, Valentine's Day cards, Easter cards and Get well cards (actually we've only just started collecting those this month). Then there are the cards that come "free" in the mail from the tens of organizations that she sent money to regularly "because they went to all the trouble to send me the cards." And a whole box of calendars (found one from 1995) from the same organizations.

Then we have a different type of paper called PHOTOS. Okay. People take photos. But photos of roses, and trees, and shrubs and flower arrangements. Photos of school children and church members but no names and no dates on them. Some of the children probably already have children themselves! And all these in duplicate!!!

Other paper includes 25 years worth of weekly letters from me and 25 years of COPIES of my mother's letter TO me. More notebooks lining the bookcases and paper bags stuffed with all the airmail envelopes with my Japanese adventures stuffed inside.

So we killed the shredder but I saved the letters (also letters from MY grandmother to my mother.) I feel guilty doing this knowing how my mother has surrounded herself in things she's loved and treasured. But she doesn't look at them anymore. She doesn't know what is there or isn't there. Still I feel that I'm doing things that should wait until after she's gone...

And I even get into philosophizing about what is the point of all this writing and keeping and hanging on to the past. I'm as guilty as my mother is with all my blog writing and recording the events of my life that just builds up one post after another. And digital pictures!!! And blog books (I just ordered another one too!)

At least in this digital age I'm saving paper...

Easy Peasy?

I had this great idea that Kiana could make a baby quilt for a family friend's baby and we would whiz through a Wicked Easy Quilt in a couple of days. Better yet, Kiana would become entranced with the process of making quilts and I would start her on her lifelong journey of piecing and quilting. Not quite.

"Quilting? Maybe..."

Well, I needed to put together a baby quilt anyway and so I bought fabrics and pieced up a quilt. Easy Peasy. Marcy was so impressed by the speed that the quilt top went together and she got a few whiffs of fabric fragrance at Jo Ann's and was caught. Marcy bought up enough fabric for two quilts and I took her through the steps of roller cutting.

"Whew... I'll get it one of these days."

Marcy kept trying to figure out which line in which direction you line up your ruler with your cutting board. Ahh... I remember that was a bit of a challenge in my first few days of roller cutter. I'd forgotten.

Next to piecing. I kept handing pieces to Marcy and she flag sewed until we had 6 blocks made.

"Good, good. Now you can put them together in a pleasing way."

"Tani, this is hard. I don't know what is a pleasing way. You decide."

Finally the quilt got to flimsy stage. Yeah!!! Marcy was so pleased with the colors she'd picked out. Looking good! We took the flimsy back to Jo Ann's to look for backing and a couple shoppers commented on the beautiful quilt.

"Yes, well, my sister-in-law basically made it but I picked out the fabrics!"

"Are you doing to do Stitch-in-the-Ditch? Send it out for long-arm?"

Marcy looked blank an the quilter's lingo being thrown at her.

Back at home I directed Marcy on how to "sandwich" a quilt and down on the floor we go.

"Tanya, this is hard work! I'm sweating already!"

Finally a sandwiched quilt and I started in hand-quilting.

"Wow! That's a lot of work. How do you do that?"

Next the binding.

"And you call this an easy quilt, Tani? It seems difficult to me."

I recall one time when my friend suggested we go hiking on a "really easy trail." Easy! Easy for whom?! Maybe for someone who hikes weekly but not for me who doesn't even own a bonafide backpack. Maybe my description of an easy quilt was a bit misleading for a beginner...

By the time we got around to Marcy's second quilt she had roped Kiana into the process saying

"Auntie Tani wanted you to learn so come and learn."

I have a feeling Marcy is NOT going to take up quilting as a hobby.

With Kiana too, she didn't understand about 1/4 inch seams and tweaking fabric to match up seams and what started out as an easy quilt became a mildly frustrating quilt because of all the re-sewing we did. I didn't want to be too exacting and kill any enthusiasm that my students might still have but... Finally we determined that the receiver would probably be thrilled with the "hand-made" tucks and gaps anyway and strove for "finished" not "perfection".

We're still working on the "easy" quilts. One down, one to go.

I don't know if Marcy and Kiana are ever going to try quilting again!!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Today I went out with Marcy and my niece and left Leiya home with Grandma. Marcy and I do a lot of talking while we drive around and the conversation always goes back to Grandma...

What are we going to do...?

The point is that she needs 24 hour baby sitting.

There are 7 of us living at my brother's house right now and we are all involved with Grandma's care to some extent. But we all react to Grandma in different ways and we all approach her failing health with different emotions.

I am in California for only a month. I see how much has been lost in the past year. My mother no longer participates in family activities being "content" to stay in bed all day sleeping or "reading" or staring out the window. Those words do not even express her anymore. She will not eat unless urged. She will not take her medication unless we stand over her. She cannot walk without a walker and even with one she is in danger of slipping or falling.

I am a worrier (I hate that word!) and a doer. Whether I want to or not I am willing to hover and help and keep her company. But I'm not a decisive person and I don't have any real suggestions for long term care. I do what is put in front of me and try not to complain or get upset.

My brother is a wonderful family man but he is not good with weakness and giving care. His extent of dealing with Grandma is to call through the window,

"Hey Mo! You'd better get out of that bed! You're not going to get any better that way!"

Marcy will light into him in a flash and it is all I can do not to jump on him and tell him to get out here and do some hands on care or at least take part in Marcy and my discussions. His attitude is, "Whatever you want to do is fine."

Marcy is a fun loving person. She is wonderful at keeping the family running, at making us all laugh, at touching and caressing, and her patience with Mother is abounding. But she is not a nurse and has no desire to become one. She has friends and schedules and often only seems to be at home for an hour the whole day through. Which means Grandma doesn't get her medicine on time or dinner might be a take out taco. And Marcy is annoyed right now because my brother doesn't really even help her with the decision making.

"Of course I love Grandma, but she is HIS mother! Keion ought to be more supportive."

Sometimes Marcy and I can get into "Keion Bashing".

Kiana is 14 (today!) and she is willing to take Grandma to the bathroom, to give her medicine and to just chat and answer the same questions that Grandma asks over and over again. She is developing a caring heart just by watching Marcy. But she is still just a young teenager.

Colin is 11 and he is getting into his hard to handle years. He makes derogatory remarks about Grandma and her feebleness and yesterday Leiya and I really lit into him and gave him a scolding. I feel bad about jumping on him but his disrespect puts a fire in my eyes. He probably won't say anything more negative about Grandma at least while I'm around. Poor boy. He's only speaking his mind.

And Leiya is wonderfully helpful and patient. But she cries easily. She sees the changes in Grandma and the way the rest of the family goes on having fun and leaving Grandma alone and it makes her sad. She also realizes what may lie ahead. Having to take Grandma out of her home or maybe worse, letting her stay alone and lonely and in danger of injury.

Emotions are running high around here.

Monday, June 22, 2009


I do not like driving very much though I've been driving for over 37 years. I think I'm a pretty good driver thanks to getting most of my experience on EXTREMELY narrow roads in Japan.

I got my first driver's license when I was 16 and drove around Southern California for a few years. When I went to Japan after college one of the first things my missionary advisor did was to take me down to the Japanese DMV and help me apply for a driver's licence. They took my California license for a couple of weeks and later handed me a Japanese driver's license. No driver's test! No driver's handbook!

"Here you go, Miss. Drive carefully."

Wow, how irresponsible is that? Everything is backwards and I can't read any of the signs! There are bicyclists and pedestrians that one needs to be careful of and mini-cars zooming here and there!

I didn't drive much the first few years because 1) even after Tetsu and I got married we only had one car and 2) Tetsu didn't trust me out on the roads. But nowadays living a ways out from anywhere means a second car is a necessity. And I've turned into a fairly good driver. Often times just coming and going from my house I need to skillfully back up to barely recognizable turnout patches or into farmers' tractor lanes to let on coming cars pass. Most of the roads along the rice fields are only wide enough for one car to pass and so it is a challenge to back up and not fall off into the flooded rice paddies. I often wish I could show my American friends and families how well I maneuver the roads in Japan. (The road behind my house in Japan.)

Expressways are usually only two lanes each direction and I find these less stressful than the California freeways that I encounter when I am visiting my family. (Japanese expressway going up to Nikko resort. Granted Tokyo expressways are a lot more crowded...)

I give myself another pat on the back because I have learned to drive on the left-hand side of the road with the driver's seat on the right-hand side of the car. And I am pretty good at making the adjustment when coming to California and when going back again. I think in all my years of coming and going I've only made the mistake once of pulling out onto the wrong side of the street. (I know! Once is enough!!!)

But one mistake I'm still making daily is when I hit the turn signal. These are also on opposite sides of the steering wheel and so when I'm driving I often hit the window wipers lever instead of the turn signal lever and the wipers go back and forth even in this hot and sunny weather. On coming drivers must think I'm crazy and Leiya cracks up every time I do it.

Well, I went and renewed my California driver's license this week.

"Here you go, ma'am. Drive carefully."

Little do they know...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Downs and Ups

I think I've determined that life is much more hectic in California than in my little farming area of Japan. I can't keep up with schedules and lifestyles and all the other things that get thrown in my lap... some good, some not so great...

Now, can you guess what this is a picture of? I took this a few days ago when stopped at the stoplight. Just an interesting viewpoint of American life. This telephone pole has probably seen hundreds and hundreds of sketches on neighborhood living. Yard sale notices, family parties directions, cars for sale, lost and found animals... I didn't think that I'd have to make acquaintances with the telephone poles this trip, BUT...

This is how WE used the telephone pole today...

Kiana and Leiya and I went walking this morning and two big dogs crossed over a main street to befriend us. At first we thought they were another walker's dogs but he said no. You remember that I panic at stray animals but they were not about to leave our sides except to run out in the street. After about 20 minutes of panicking we called Marcy (at 6:30 in the morning) to come and rescue us. I mean we weren't afraid of the dogs but I didn't want them following us to the main street.

In the end we piled them into the car with us and took them to the vet but no micro chips. We've called the Animal Shelter etc. and put up signs but no response. And we locked the dogs in the backyard but they escaped twice. We fenced them into our neighbor's yard with a sturdier fence (with permission) but they have escaped that area too, so now they are on the loose again. I hope they find their way home... Well, we tried, although we really didn't need to have a dog owner search going on with all the concerns with Grandma. Wish I could have reported a happier ending to this tale.

My mother is more and more "feeble" (taught that word to Leiya yesterday.) We took her back to the doctor and he is so great. He talked about "quality of life", "keeping her comfortable and happy" all sorts of things I really didn't want to think about. He said he had just been through similar situations with his father and as we left he chucked my mother under her chin and said,

"You're one of my oldest patients. Going on 15 years I think. Smile for me?"

Sort of made me teary eyed.

On the bright side, I finished piecing a Wicked Easy baby quilt for one of my church friends. I think I'll take the flimsy back to Japan and sandwich it in Japan. And Marcy has started on her own baby quilt for one of her friends so the sewing machine is busy! I thought I'd broken it and had to get my brother to come take it apart to fix it but he determined I'd just set it accidentally on bobbin wind.

I hope we can get more sewing in today!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Family together

We had a lot of family time yesterday. We all, aunts, uncles, Marcy's Mom, neighbors, congregated at a local football field for my niece's promotion ceremony (Grandma couldn't go). Thanks to Southern California's perpetually sunny weather the graduation and promotion ceremonies can be held outside and it was HOT! I don't remember doing this in jr. high and my brother said that this is a recent addition to the middle school program. All those kids sure looked older than eighth grade!

Afterwards we all went out to lunch and had a grand ol' time.

So here are family pictures for the benefit of Tetsu at home in Japan.

Takumi and Leiya together for a quick picture at the restaurant. They actually can stand next to each other and smile! (I'm remembering days of old when there was pushing and shoving and complaints of "Tell her to stop touching me!")

My brother and I enjoying an evening in front of the fireplace. Even though the days are warming up the evenings still get pleasantly cool. I think the fireplace is for atmosphere not warmth. That and my brother helped cut down a tree a couple of weeks so there's a lot of dead wood around.

Marcy and I made a trip to Jo Anns and I bought a few Olfa cutting boards at half price off. Yeah! I need to make a baby quilt for someone at church so I bought fabric for that and Marcy remembered two people that SHE needed to get baby gifts for, so guess what? Marcy is going to make a quilt! One. Maybe two. Doesn't she look like a pro piling her fabric bolts into her cart?

End of the school year

The days go by quickly and so much happens (but nothing interesting) that I find it hard to start a post because I know I have to do something before I get it finished. Quick update.

My nephew was "promoted" from 5th grade to middle school. They no longer call it "graduation" or "junior high school" and in my day we completed 6th grade in the elementary school but no longer.

So many things that I find interesting but I'm sure my American blog readers aren't going to be interested at all in my observations. Promotion was a quick handing out of certificates in the classroom on Monday. Some parents attended but not all. The teacher was wearing shorts and the whole thing was over before I got any pictures. After the classroom event all the kids walked down to the neighborhood park and had a barbecue of hot dogs and hamburgers.

Big difference from Japanese elementary school graduation. My kids were required to wear their up-coming jr. high school uniforms and it was "suggested" to the mothers that we all wear a black suit. A real orchestrated event in Japan (as is the kindergarten graduation ceremonies, and the jr. high graduation ceremonies).

Tuesday there was an awards assembly at my nephew's school and that really choked me up. That's funny because the only child in the whole school that I know is my nephew! Again, casualness prevailed for all the kids and parents (parents all sat on the picnic benches on the school grounds and drank Starbucks as they watched). I was most impressed at the awards given in every class for "Most improvement". Most improvement in reading, in writing, in math, in citizenship. Of course some recognition of excellence in grades but by far the most improvement theme ran high.

Another situation that struck me was when the Deaf-Ed classes were called on stage for the recognition. Up until then the general mood was a lot of cheering and clapping and whistling for each child. Typical American loud and fun loving. But when the children in those classes were called forward the whole assembly spontaneously raised their hands and twisted their wrists in the official American Sign Language sign for a cheer. I just thought that was so caring and touching.

Grandma update. We went to visit Mother after the ceremonies and found her in a real tiz about everything. Sort of an anxiety attack. But the hospital said she could go home so home we came! She has zonked out since then. We'll see what the next few days bring.

Leiya's here! She flew in at 10:00 last night! Lots of chatting between us already (daughters give so much more information than sons!) but not enough light to take a picture of her.

And Takumi blew in around 12:00 midnight so I have my children together for the day.

On today's agenda are promotion ceremonies for my niece to high school.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hospital care

Good morning. I don't really want my blog to turn into a geriatrics blog but I do want to keep track of what is going on in my life, and this is what is going on...

I spent most of the day at the hospital again yesterday. Mother is looking good. Even when she isn't so great she always is the model of politeness and congeniality. While being helped to the toilet by the nurses she'll ask about their background and nationality, whether they have children, and she'll introduce me

"And this is my daughter from Japan. She's lived there 30 years and has a Japanese husband but her two children are studying in America. My son's wife is Caucasian so I have Japanese looking grandchildren and Caucasian looking grandchildren."

The nurses smile and keep up the conversation but Grandma will introduce me to the same nurses every time they come in. And to the doctors. And to the cleaning ladies. I think she is what could be called a "cute but confused" grandma.

Grandma's hospital is a small general hospital and when I was in high school I actually volunteered my summers there. Not really a candy striper (I was given a uniform of white pants and a tan smock) but I'd push wheelchairs and help make beds. I look around the hallways and try to remember those summers but most everything is unfamiliar to me. Here are a few things that caught my attention about American hospitals yesterday.
  1. RNs and CNAs. I had to ask what the initials stand for. And observe what the differences were. RNs took temperatures and blood pressure and oxygen levels. Flushed IVs, relayed information (minor) from the doctor, brought medicine. CNAs brought meals, helped Grandma to the toilet, did the cleaning up afterwards. I think in Japan a nurse is a nurse in the regular hospitals.

  2. White board. On the wall where the patient can see it is a white board that lets everyone know the assigned RN and CNA for that shift. I don't think they have the assignment system in Japan. I really liked this system because the nurse seems to have time for my mother and knows her problems and quirks (like being introduced to me three times.) Bad side is that my mom didn't seem to understand why the other nurse couldn't help her when she was right in the room.

  3. Meals. Obviously these were really different. No soy beans anywhere! Looked delicious!

  4. Plastic gloves. I was amazed at the number of plastic gloves that were used in the few hours I was at the hospital. This may seem so obvious but my mother-in-law in Japan was required to bring a box of plastic gloves for the nurses to use...and not that many got used. Yesterday every single time a RN or CNA came into the room they put on another pair of plastic gloves and tossed them on their way out the door.

  5. IV line. My mother does not like the IV needle stuck in her arm. They had her hooked up to something in the emergency room. She is no longer hooked up but the line is still there. She buzzes for the nurse. "This is bothering me. Do you suppose you could take it out?" "Oh no. Everyone in the hospital for the duration of their stay must have an easy access line in case of an emergency. We don't want to be trying to hook you up and can't find a vein in an emergency." I think my mother-in-law was in the hospital a month and never had an IV near her and certainly not for the duration of her stay!

  6. Accents. This is just thrown in here because I found it interesting that every single person that came into the hospital room seemed to have an accent. Thanks to my mother's chatting skills I found out that 4 of the nurses were from the Philippines. One doctor was Indian, one was Italian, and a couple of the CNAs were from Dubai. Mother's own doctor is Iranian and her hospital roommate seemed to be Hispanic.

And guess what... While mother was napping I took off for a couple hours and visited Jo Anns! I'd make a lousy nurse.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


...not on to the next project...

I spent about 8 hours at the hospital yesterday. And my mom is back in again. Life changes quickly...

Normal morning. The rest of the family went off to softball tournament. I did laundry and even got Grandma up for a bit so that I could change sheets and her pajamas etc. At 1:30 though she said she was feeling sick and I accosted Marcy as she drove in the driveway and we were in the emergency room by 2:00.

It's hard to tell what's going on and it's hard to know what to do... Grandma does NOT want to go to the hospital! Are we jumping the gun? Should we wait and see if she gets worse? What is worse? Even with the doctor firing questions at us we were sort of at a loss.

"When did she start getting nauseous?" "1:00? But she's had episodes for years."

"Does she get dizzy? Is she unsteady? Since when?" "Oh, she's always unsteady..."

"So why did you bring her in?" "Because we thought her blood pressure might be high? Because the last time she was brought in she had had a heart attack... Same symptoms."

More emergency room tests. More not so great results. Yep. She'd better be admitted. That makes Grandma sad. She does not want to be there. She does not want us to leave.

Marcy and I wait in the hallway while they move Mother from one bed to another and hook her back up to all their machines. I stand there thinking maybe we ought to call Mother's pastor... No that is really jumping the gun.

"Pastor Andrea?"

Marcy looks down the hall and there is Mother's pastor on her way back from visiting her own mother who is hospitalized! Pastor Andrea comes in and Mother looks up and says,

"Oh my! You are so beautiful!"

"Oh Grace, you ARE sick!"

Gives us all a laugh. (Pastor Andrea IS lovely but she didn't expect the genuine, spontaneous compliment at that particular moment.)

Prayers and a hand squeeze and I think God has sent us a small miracle.

"He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,
miracles that cannot be counted."

Job 5:9

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pillow cases

I have set up a sewing area in my mother's living room. Last summer I got Marcy involved with making pillow cases. She spent much of the latter part of 2008 making pillow cases for Christmas presents and she decided that she wanted to make pillow cases for my niece's softball team as an end of the year present. They found the fabric they liked (softballs!) and some matching border fabric and Marcy went to town cutting out pieces (no roller cutter! Yuck!) and getting 16 pillow cases ready for assembly... Just in time for me to sew them! (Marcy was planning to sew them herself but I conveniently came along early!)

Great system, and as my mother watched over the whole process, "What are you making? Why are you making those? How many are you making? Can I help? (We gave her manicure scissors and asked her to cut off thread tails) Marcy ironed and I flag sewed. Within two hours we had our 16 pillow cases made!

Next step. Marcy wanted the pillow cases embroidered with the softball team's names and numbers and last night we found a man at a street fair that would do it for us very cheaply. Marcy tested him out by getting her own name embroidered on one pillow case (she's #1!) and we will take all the rest of the pillow cases to him later this week.

Mom's still saying "What are those? Who made them? How many did you make? Oh, they're so beautiful!"
Makes us feel proud!

On to the next project!